(500) Days of Summer
On the surface there would appear to be very little that’s fresh about this feature debut from music video director Marc Webb, who turned down a lot of offers of teen comedies to make his mark with this sweet indie rom-com. From the jumbled chronology of the story, to the sketchpad illustrations that serve to indicate which of the titular 500 days we’re currently observing, to the token precocious child, the ingredients of the colorfully quirky Sundance indie are all present and correct. Yet despite that there is enough charm and knowing detail in Michael Weber and Scott Neustadter’s script, backed by two irresistible performances from Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel to potentially maneuver (500) Days of Summer into position as this year’s indie sensation.
As the comforting warble of the unnamed narrator (a fruit basket to Wes Anderson is sure to be on its way) informs us, this is indeed a story about boy-meets-girl – but it is not a love story. Rather it is a story about love, which is not necessarily the same thing. Disregarding the conventional arc, which would surely bring heart-wrenching break-ups right around the seventy-fifth minute and a mad dash to the airport five minutes before the end, this story opens after the relationship has already collapsed. Dejected and languishing in the pit of romantic despair, wannabe architect Tom (Gordon-Levitt) rhythmically smashes crockery in his kitchen while his best friend Paul (Gubler) declares in exasperation that “it’s Amanda Brewer all over again.” Wise in the ways of love, Tom’s kid sister Rachel (Moretz) cycles over to counsel him as Tom neurotically dissects the minutia of his courtship with Summer (Deschanel) as he tries to pinpoint what went wrong.
Shuffling his narrative deck, Webb happily bounces around in time between their meeting at the greeting card company where they both worked to the aftermath of their break-up. The tone of the accompanying sketches alters accordingly from green trees near the beginning to grey skies close to the end. What sets the film apart is that everyone involved seems acutely aware of the delicate nature of romance. Love doesn’t come in dramatic beats, but is rather a tiny series of continuous earthquakes, good and bad, with the capacity to inspire both elation and anguish with little warning either way. Cutting back and forth Webb deftly showcases how things that were once cute (“I love that little birthmark on her neck”) can drive a person crazy as a relationship progresses (“I hate that fucking cockroach splat on her neck.”).
Having delivered a string of impressive performances in the likes of The Lookout and Brick, Joseph Gordon-Levitt here shows off his natural charm as the sad sack transformed by the possibility of true love, and then suitably crushed when reality crashes his party. Deschanel’s performance is wonderfully nuanced as a carefree spirit who isn’t looking for anything serious and remains beautifully idiosyncratic as she gradually pushes Tom away without ever once alienating us the audience.
But the real genius is the way that the peaks and valleys are integrated into the characters everyday lives. Not afraid of whimsy or even out and out surrealism, the morning after their first night together sees Tom bound to work leading a chorus line in the park complete with pretend home runs and animated bluebirds. When things take a turn for the worse and his mood swings wildly in the other direction, Tom’s boss shifts him from writing congratulations cards to sympathy and condolence.
Rather than attempt to portray true love as some overblown state of ethereal bliss that happens once in a lifetime, (500) Days of Summer wisely takes the more realistic view that all love is true love. Love is a cycle that lasts an indeterminate amount of time. While no two people you fall in love with are ever the same, that feeling of being in love is a constant no matter who you are or how many times you’ve experienced it.
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, Geoffrey Arend, Chloe Moretz, Matthew Gray Gubler, Clark Gregg
Director: Marc Webb
Runtime: 95 Minutes
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures